The AfPak Conflict and the Lead-up to the December 2010 Strategic Review

I am currently underwater with some things and won’t be posting much, despite my interest in the debates over drones, targeted killing, and much else besides. However, I wanted to suggest that, for those trying to make sense of US actions in AfPak – including the overt strikes by NATO against safe havens in Pakistan, the sharply increased public pressure by the US on the Pakistan government to take action against these safe havens, the unapologetic defense of targeted killing even of US citizens in places like Yemen or Somalia or beyond, etc. – at this moment there are two key sources.

One is Woodward’s new book. I took a pause out of writing some stuff on these topics to read the book; events unfolding now appear quite directly to follow on the path laid out in the President’s review of Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy a year ago. This is the main narrative of the book, and well worth reading closely. There’s little going on now that is not presaged in those discussions. And current events are both following a plan laid out a year ago, almost exactly, and running up to the planned December 2010 strategic review.

Two, the reporting by Adam Entous, Julian Barnes, Siobhan Gorman, and others at the Wall Street Journal’s news pages. I follow the reporting in all the papers closely, and the Journal’s news coverage at this point in time is eating the other newspapers’ coverage for lunch. I think the Washington Post figured they had it covered with the excerpts from Woodward’s book, and have been caught somewhat flatfooted by what is going on now – and seem curiously unable to connect it to their own excerpts from Woodward’s book. The Washington Times is always very good because its national security team is well connected in DC and on the ground in AfPak, but outgunned in this particular phase of reporting. The New York Times is unfocused; Helene Cooper is unsuited to this beat, and despite my considerable respect for Scott Shane and others there, alas, the national security reporting team seems to have lapsed into simply waiting for someone to leak it something.

Entous, who just came over from Reuter’s, and the other folks at the Journal have been aggressively working sources in DC as well as on the ground in AfPak, and I admire the way in which they approach analysis as news reporters – it’s not fit to a preexisting political narrative, but instead trying to link up the longer run picture of strategy by closely reading Woodward and others close to the process from a year or two or five ago, and see events in a strategic frame that is not about prior narratives. It’s exemplary reporting that is both very detail oriented and yet analytically clear-eyed. It is still newspaper reporting, rather than magazine journalism let loose on the front page, but scrupulously neutral and simultaneously an analytic and factually detailed take. ¬†Actually, it’s a little bit like what one would hope the best intelligence analysis inside the agencies would look like; one hopes that Panetta and others receive stuff this good with all the secret stuff tucked in as well.

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